Rock bands have long been good at sloganeering, especially those who self-consciously pitch themselves at studiously rebellious teens, keen to express their anarchist credentials while enjoying a university life paid for by daddy’s credit card. Of course, the sloganeering in question has to be the right sort – no actually contentious or challenging opinions will be tolerated. And for all the pseudo-edginess, few of these bands will do anything remotely challenging musically.
So this newly re-issued – originally out in 2008 – collection of tracks by Teenage Jesus (with some Beirut Slump thrown in for good measure) is a breath of fresh air, because not only is this genuinely revolutionary stuff, but it’s done by people who fucking mean it. Lydia Lunch could eat your average anarcho-punk act or socially aware protester for breakfast, shit out their remains and barely even notice. She’s someone who really did lead the life these people aspire to but are terrified of (a life discussed in her sleeve notes for this album) – out of necessity, not choice – and then, with the rest of this band, created sounds that genuinely set out to destroy music. A sixteen year old runaway, hanging out with hippies, artists and determined to be heard, Lydia set out to “castrate the tradition of melody and composition”. Teenage terrorism indeed.
The tracks here, culled from the handful of Teenage Jesus releases and assorted compilation albums, remain as acerbic and discordant as ever, ranging from a mere 23 seconds to a whopping 3.52 in length. And let’s be clear – while the concept of ‘no wave’ would eventually be absorbed into being yet another musical form and imitated and diluted by chancers, it was – and is – a rejection of genre and labels, a destruction of musical form and structure, allowing Lydia to shout out her twisted poetry and proto-spoken word confessions against a cacophony of noise that only rarely begins to resemble music as we know it. This is all good.
Because while Teenage Jesus are destroying music, they are also reinventing it. Shrieking guitar, shrieking vocals, stop-start rhythms, distorted sounds, hysteria. This is not simply noise for noise sake. Sometimes, it’s close to tuneful. Sometimes it’s catchy. It’s almost always brilliant. The sound that arguably launched the whole New York underground of the 1980s.
Your Teenage Jesus favourites are all here – Red Alert, Orphans, The Closet, Tornado Warnings, Baby Doll, I Am the Lord Jesus. All belted out with a sense of passion, boredom, anger and derision that can only be found when someone is just DOING IT and not making some contrived effort to be edgy. At points, it takes on a Siouxsie like edge, but mostly this is entirely within its own universe. It’s a time and a place, like all Lydia’s work representing the collaboration that she was involved it at that moment, seemingly unconnected to anything she’s done since and yet instantly, entirely recognisable as her work. Equally, the Beirut Slump tracks – sluggish, doom-laden, swampy and angsty with Bobby Swope’s funereal singing – are classic Lydia Lunch, even without her vocal presence.
As the earliest incarnation of one of our most interesting artists, this is essential stuff. But as a work of musical deconstruction and reinvention it is even more exciting, seemingly deliberate in it chaotic compilation (this is not in release order and trying to pin down the key codes identifying which track belongs to which record is a task bound to end in confusion).
Play loud and play often.